When I wrote about the Church as a dysfunctional family in my last blog post (https://frjakob.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/church-as-dysfunctional-family/) I admitted that everything is not well within the body of Christ. I would suggest that our inability to see our brokenness as a body continues to be the proverbial log that prevents us from removing splinters in other people’s eyes with accuracy and efficiency. We struggle with recognizing our sin on a personal level which means that our sin affects the other person’s around us often without us even noticing it. As Church, as persons, we struggle together, if one member suffers all the other members suffers as well. Our denial of the presence of wounds in our body affects others, either we want it or not, by default. We were created as communal beings and when we deny this communal identity and misdirect the sacramental reality it holds, we end up blind to who we are as a body.
Would it help with some introspection perhaps? It might help with acknowledging the pain we have caused others. It might help to get a second opinion of our current predicament from a doctor as well. Admitting that the wounds are still there, that they have not been healed and that we need to go to the hospital. Wounds will not heal until they are recognized as such.
For this reason, I sat out to Vancouver to sit under Gordon T Smith’s teachings about the “Meaning of the Sacraments” for a week. During the time there I gained a deeper understanding of how these wounds came to be, why they hurt so much and what kind of wound the different parts of the body have. It is helpful to know each other’s history so that one can avoid offence and move towards an informed language and ways to communicate. During the week at Regent College in Vancouver, it became more and more evident to me that scholastic exercise and method helped in terms of diagnosing the wounds but falls short in terms of actual remedy. Study (which in a very real sense is incorporated humility) is needed in order to get to a point of understanding that we indeed need medicine, but it is not the fullness of medicine. Study and word points to the remedy, it might even be the beginning of remedy but it is still distinct from the remedy. It is interesting that we, as Church have been very faithful in studying but maybe not so faithful in terms of stepping out into the mysteries we don’t understand in faith and let the Holy Spirit do His work as only He can do. We have yet to share the fulness of the remedy…
With this broken body, the Church, in mind, we approach the mystery of what Jesus says when He says: “This is My body – broken for you.” I believe that He is not only speaking about His own physical, historical body, nor only of the bread and the wine in front of Him. He is speaking about everything that has been broken due to sin. The universe, created by the Word of God suffered violence and brokenness because of Adams sin. In the Word of God, the new Adam, Jesus, that wound is first made manifest but also healed. Jesus faces the wound. He more than faces it, He takes it into Himself. He exposes sin and hangs it on the tree for everyone to see. Then, in a deep mystery orchestrated by the Trinity, the dead wood of the cross transforms into the path of the tree of life with an abundance of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The material, physicality, dead because of the fall, is resurrected to life once more. Inaugurated in the Church first but also unto the ends of the earth. (Just to be clear, I am not suggesting the guarantee of everyone’s salvation, that kind of calls we must leave to God)
When we confess Christ as Lord, it is this reality we confess. He is the Word of God through Whom the universe is created. Jesus body is still present on the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church because in Him heaven has landed on the earth. The Church’s claim to holiness (which have been somewhat overemphasized and turned into triumphalism through history) can only be incarnated in that she recognizes her own brokenness. Christ’s perfect nature is revealed through brokenness. If the Church must claim holiness (and claim it She must due to being the body of Christ), She can only base that claim in the process of repentance, in acknowledging that She is not perfect…
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
It is because of what Jesus says in John chapter 17 that Church unity can’t happen outside of sharing the body and blood of Christ. It can not happen by the study of words and a common definition alone. Just as we need word and sacrament in the local church, we need word and sacrament in the catholic (worldwide) church, otherwise, it is not catholic (proper). To pretend that we are at peace and in unity without sharing the Eucharist would be like being married to someone without consummating the marriage. Or to be baptized in water only, dismissing the baptism in fire (Spirit), or to preach the word to the crowds but withhold love in action (Sacrament), hence the possibility of new life is not possible, to use the words of Gordon T Smith; “it doesn’t take”. Nothing is transformed, it is cerebral only. As God’s family, it is of the essence that we find a way to eat together, to receive the body and blood of Christ together. As long as we don’t, the world will not view us as a family. It will not see our loving Father if we as children always are at odds with each other, that we can not even eat and receive the most basic of human needs, food, together. As children of the incarnated One, we must incarnate what we have have been given or rather we can not claim Incarnation (Christ, the Logos coming in the body) if we refuse to eat His body as children in His family. Diverse, off course but still one.
Given that almost all expressions of Christianity have retained at least a remnant of the Eucharist testifies to the necessity of having a meal. What has been believed throughout time, everywhere, by all, we together with St Vincent of Lerin hold to be true. The issue that has been obscuring the partaking of this heavenly banquet in peace, love and joy seems to be based out of the family of God not agreeing upon the when, how, who and what of the Eucharist. And even though these questions do have value, (God wants to be known by our mind), they might just have gotten a little too much attention. When we give the mind the full attention, we often forget to listen to our heart, and when it comes to the mysteries of God, we must not forget the heart, the nous. We come to the table as adults, yes but we also come to the table as children. We know intuitively what is taking place. Maybe it is a revelation by participation rather than information by transaction?
Fundamentally, I do not believe Eucharistic unity/hospitality is a matter of getting the definition right. I don’t even believe it is about agreeing with the same statements of theology concerning the Eucharist. Fundamentally, unity is not attained by mental ascent. It is folly to believe that we somehow can encapsulate the exactness of how God is working in human language. (Even though these definitions most often arose as a defence of Christian faith. We should not let our passionate defence in war become the way we operate in peace.) That we somehow would be able to formulate a doctrine that we can apply carte blanche to every situation and person.
The way to unity is rather the way of love. The way to partake of the table together is for all of us to recognize that we all have fallen short in understanding and deed. It is a way of listening rather than assertion, of helping each other out rather than condemning. The way of speaking good things about one another rather than accusation and sharing each others pain rather than inflicting it. It is the way of covering each other in prayer, lending our space to one another and putting each other first. It is the way of knowing each other as persons, different but a part of one another. Trinitarian as it were. We need each other to bloom into our personhood. When we love each other, we actively engage the spiritual climate that is the modus operandi of the sacramental life. We lay down our lives for each other. We become broken for each other out of love for one another and at that point we become, in Truth, the body of Christ. Broken for the life of the world.